“The world today can be a scary place,
It’s hard to keep your faith in the human race.
We’re running out of trees and we’re running out of space,
But we’ll never run out of good people.”
– Good People, Great Big Sea
On March 24, 2013 (before Tampa Bay, Ireland, Lake Willoughby, and Lake Memphremagog) on my way home from swimming that morning, I was in a car accident. It was far too late when I stepped on the brakes. Those moments before impact proceed extremely slowly, like clipped and individual images in my mind. In my being there is a resignation, a letting go. All the power I had to avoid this is long, long gone, now. I am simply here.
The air bag went off, the car filled with smoke or white powder or something. My dog whined in the back seat and popped her head up next to me. I asked her if she was okay. Her tail wagged and she just looked at me. I didn’t know what to do, then. This was my first car accident in my entire life (with the exception of hitting a bear, but that was different). The car I had hit started their engine and pulled off to the side of the road. I tried to do the same. My car wouldn’t start.
I got out of the car, extremely shaken, trembling and kind of sore. I asked the people I had hit if they were okay. They said they were. I took a look at my car. It was bleeding out in the middle of the road. My first instinct was to worry about all the hazardous materials seeping into the ground. (No really, that was my first thought.) Then the damage costs began to add up in my brain. How was I going to get home? It all threatened to swallow me up. I realized then, on top of all of that, that all of this was entirely my fault. So I did what all reasonable, well adjusted people do: I let the tears run uninhibited down my face and called Natalie.
Needless to say, this was the not the greatest moment of my life. Some part of me wanted to just go lie down in the grass by the side of the road and wait for it all to be over. The rest of me thought I should just own it. It’s not that bad, after all. Nobody is hurt. It was a mistake. We’ll get it all worked out. It will be fine. It will. It always is. Cry if you have to, but you can do this.
You can do this…
When the responding officer arrived at the scene, I was afraid of him. It wasn’t that he looked scary, I was just nervous because he’s a State Trooper and this whole dumb thing was my fault. I kind of expected to be chewed out because, well, I’m ‘one of those stupid female drivers’.
But the State Trooper asked me if I was all right and he seemed genuinely concerned. He helped me push the car out of the road. He took my statement for his report and then very patiently answered all of my questions. While he was taking down my information, he noted that I was from Vermont. As it was a Sunday morning just after 9 am, he asked me what I was doing driving through New York so early.
“I was just at the YMCA in Glens Falls to swim,” I answered.
I could see that he was trying, like most people, to figure this out.
“Do you swim competitively?” He asked.
“Not really,” I answered, mostly because I’m never really sure how to answer that question. I mean, I DO compete in say – Masters swim meets. But that’s like… well… let’s just say I take up space at competitions. I’m a placeholder. A lane holder. I’m a body in a lane at the swim meet. Can we say that?
“I’m an open water marathon swimmer,” I explained. “I do distance.”
From there, somehow, we went back and forth about swimming and swims I’ve done and swims I was planning to do. We talked about the English Channel and I told him about how I wanted to build a pool in Rutland – mainly so that I wouldn’t have to get into car accidents in New York.
You can tell when people get you. You can tell by the way they listen. And my State Trooper friend just got me. As he wrote down the name of my blog, I remember thinking, Really, Bethany? The State Trooper at the scene of your car accident is writing down the name of your blog?
I feel like… This would happen to me.
By the time Natalie arrived to pick me up, well – I knew Brian about as well as I know some of my friends on Facebook.
A week went by and he followed up with a letter to check up on me. I wrote him back. Since then I’ve met his family, been to dinner at his house, and I even got to go to his retirement party. I love, love, love his wife and his sons and their wives are all about my age. We’ve really hit it off in a special way that I don’t think touches many people.
A couple of weekends ago, he came out to Lake Bomoseen to kayak for me. As I was swimming along, I just marveled at the reality of this oh-so-sweet story.
Remember Bethany?! Remember that time you were in a car accident! Remember? And your car was totaled and it was all your fault. Remember how you just kept crying? Remember? But remember that it was okay? Remember how you were safe and remember how your dog was safe and remember how the other folks were safe and remember how your insurance covered everything? Remember? Do you? Remember the State Trooper? Remember how he wrote down the name of your blog? Remember how he became a good friend? Remember that time? That was a good time.
…But it really was. One of the best times.
I’ve often thought to myself, as I look around at all of the quality and generosity and talent and intelligence and strength and beauty and integrity and creativity and excellence of the amazing people in my life, that maybe, just maybe – by association – there’s something pretty remarkable about me.
I can’t see any other way about it: I must be pretty great.
The great thing about greatness is that it attracts greatness and produces more greatness.
You never know who you’ll meet. You never know when you’ll meet them. There are good people to be found out there, even in the most unusual or awful circumstances. I am oh-so-glad for all the friends I’ve found and who have found me over the years. I can’t credit swimming with these extraordinary friendships, I think swimming has just been the door. We were both standing on either side of it, you and I, just being who we were, when it opened.
Who would have ever guessed, when my car went slamming into the car in front of me, that I would come away with so much?
You just can’t make this stuff up. I truly do have the best life ever.
“Rich or poor, we’re born to be free,
Fly around the world, swim the seven seas,
There’s no place in the world that I’d rather be,
Than here, right now, with good people.”